Democratic leader Jacob Conway: Republican Senator Dan Seum's civil rights restoration proposal shows progressive leadership
For the past 10 years I have been represented, or under-represented, by Republican State Senator Dan “Malano” Seum.
I have never voted to re-elect Senator Seum since his representation was forced upon my beloved neighborhood outside of Jeffersontown more than a decade ago.
As a member of the Jefferson County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee I have been actively doing my part to retire the long-time libertarian-leaning legislator, including a virtual anthology of letters expressing my displeasure with his voting record.
However, this week I must tip my hat to “The Gentleman from Jefferson-38.”
In a recent meeting of the Interim Judiciary Committee, Senator Seum brought a proposal that were I in the legislature, I would not only actively support, I’d sign on as a co-sponsor.
He proposed what amounts to our Commonwealth joining the 21st century in the way those who have committed non-violent felonies re-join society.
Senator Seum explained in a recent interview on My CN2’s “Pure Politics with Ryan Alessi” that he’d like to see all “non-violent and non-sexual” felons receive an automatic restoration of their civil rights along with an automatic expungement from their record five years after they successfully complete their sentence.
Kentucky is one of three states that doesn’t restore a felon’s voter rights automatically. We require that they apply for a pardon from the governor. Even if they receive a pardon, it often leaves the felony on their record, making it extremely hard to get a job.
The idea of civil rights restoration isn’t a new one; earlier this year State Rep. Daryl T. Owens (D-43) sponsored a bill that would have automatically restored the voting rights of non-violent felons. Owens’ bill passed the State House, but failed in the State Senate, though it was supported by many leaders in the law enforcement community, including Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel.
Stengel, who served in the State House prior to his election as Jefferson County’s top prosecutor, is retiring this year and is rumored to be considering a run against Seum in 2014.
Stengel represented the 29th House District, which covers much of Senator Seum’s 38th Senate District.
With Stengel’s local name recognition, coupled with his high profile career as Commonwealth’s Attorney, he could pose a strong threat to the man Jefferson County Democrats have wanted to defeat since he switched parties, giving control of the Senate to the Republicans more than a decade ago.
Perhaps Seum’s change of heart on this issue has something to do with Stengel, who would be one of the strongest opponents he’s ever had to face. Or, maybe it has to do with the fact Seum’s son is also a convicted felon who has turned his life around.
But the fact that he has a Scarlet “F” around his neck has created issues and made it hard for him to volunteer at his kid’s school.
Whatever the reason for his decision to come out in favor of this important issue, I can finally be a little proud to call Dan Seum my state senator.
With his trademark no-nonsense approach to issues, he has shed light on some major flaws in our Commonwealth’s statutes.
According to state law, a person can’t even become a barber if they have been convicted of a felony, nor can they volunteer as a PTA member.
The law makes no consideration for the severity of the crime, the time past since the individual was convicted and whether the individual has changed their ways.
If our criminal justice system is based upon the theory of rehabilitation, then shouldn’t our laws reflect that?
Seum’s bill would finally do just that!
It doesn’t take an expert to know that this would cut down on the recidivism rate in our state. If people do their time, pay their debt to society and keep their noses clean for a period of time, they should be able to fully return to society as a productive member by, say, going to school and becoming a licensed professional barber.
Not to mention that thanks to the self-esteem that comes with having a career and being able to earn a living, people are less likely to return to a life of crime.
While I am still no fan of Seum, I am glad he has come out in support of this issue.
He is the Republican Caucus chairman, and as such he can get other Republicans who have been reluctant to support this cause on board.
His endorsement would also give the Democrats the cover they need to support this issue without the fear of being called “soft on crime.”
If Senator Seum reads this column, I’d like to close by thanking him for his courageous, common sense and – dare I say – progressive leadership on this issue.
About Jacob Conway: Jacob Conway has been actively involved in local and state politics since he was 16 years old. Conway has managed or consulted on a host of local, state and judicial campaigns since the 2002 election cycle. He currently is a partner at Website Mentors, a locally owned and operated web design and digital marketing firm and a member of the Louisville- Jefferson County Democratic Party’s Executive Committee.